Global Policy Forum

Weak States Got Weaker in 2007


By Jim Lobe

Inter Press Service
June 23, 2008

Weak states already close to collapse at the end of 2006 moved closer to the brink last year, even before the latest explosion of food and fuel prices that are certain to feed instability in vulnerable countries, according to the latest edition of the annual "Failed States Index" released here Monday by Foreign Policy magazine.

The Index, a collaborative effort of Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace (FFP), found that Somalia replaced Sudan as the world's most unstable country in 2007 after U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops routed Islamist forces which had given the strife-torn East African nation its first semblance of stability in more than 15 years.

Sudan, which had topped the list for the previous two years, fell into second place, while Zimbabwe, where a government-sponsored campaign of violence forced the opposition candidate Sunday to withdraw from presidential elections scheduled for later this week, moved up to third from the fourth rank it held in the 2006 Index.

Sudan's western neighbour, Chad, was ranked fourth for 2007, just above U.S.-occupied Iraq, which last year held the second-ranked position amid indications that sectarian violence was moving the country into a full-scale civil war.

The Index's compilers credited the U.S. "surge" -- the addition of some 30,000 U.S. troops and the adoption of a more aggressive counter-insurgency strategy -- in part for Baghdad's improvement over the course of the year, although it underlined, as have U.S. commanders and officials, the fragility of the country's advance.

"(P)rogress in Iraq last year was negligible at best and deeply susceptible to reversal should the country suffer the kind of shock -- a food shortage, a high-level assassination, an attack that unleashes ethnic hatreds -- that has exposed so many states' deep vulnerabilities in recent months," according to the Index analysis published in Foreign Policy.

The Index, which is based on a dozen social, economic and political indicators, each of which is assigned a numerical score, also found major improvements in 2007 in stability for Cote d'Ivoire, which ranked eighth this year; Haiti (14); and Liberia (34), among other countries, compared to 2006.

At the same time, several key countries became substantially more insecure in 2007, according to the Index, which cited in particular Bangladesh (12), where a state of emergency has lasted nearly two years; Pakistan (9), where former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination closed out the year; and Israel (57), where instability in the Palestinian West Bank, as well as declining confidence in the central government and the military following the 2006 Lebanon war, brought the Jewish states into the ranks of the world's 60 most vulnerable nations for the first time.

The Index, like some of its variants used by international agencies and political-risk firms, is designed to provide early warning to the international community about states that are at risk of failure or collapse.

The 12 indicators, on which country scores are based, include, among other variables, the movement of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs); evidence of demographic pressures and serious ethnic or sectarian grievances; gaps between rich and poor; economic growth or recession; performance of public services; corruption; the human rights situation and rule of law; and the intervention of other states or foreign non-state actors. For each indicator, countries are given a numerical score of between one (for best performance) and 10 (for worst.)

Thus, out of a possible worst score of 120, Somalia, the world's most unstable nation, earned 114.2 points, while Norway, the most stable nation out of the 177 for which scores were rewarded, received 16.8 points.

What is most remarkable about the 2007 results is that the overall scores of the 60 most vulnerable states are higher than they were last year, a reflection, at least in major part perhaps, of the impact of higher global food and fuel prices that disproportionately punishes those countries that can least afford them.

That those same prices have continued their rise to historic or near-historic levels in the last six months -- that is, after the research for the 2007 Index was completed -- suggests that many states may be even closer to collapse than they were at the end of last year.

Protests that sometimes degenerated into riots have broken out over rising food prices in more than a dozen nations already this year, forcing some governments to resort to populist measures that their already-depleted treasuries can ill afford.

"It is a test that dozens of weak states are being forced to confront this year, with escalating prices threatening to undo years of poverty-alleviation and development efforts," according to the Index's analysis, which also noted that other unexpected events, such as the ethnic violence that followed last year's election in Kenya (26) and the typhoon that ravaged the Irrawaddy Delta in Burma (12) earlier this year, make it that much more difficult for weak states to cope.

Of the 20 most vulnerable states, 11 are in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to Somalia, Sudan, Chad, and Cote d'Ivoire, they include the Democratic Republic of the Congo (6), the Central African Republican (10), Guinea (11), Ethiopia and Uganda (16), and Nigeria (18).

While Iraq improved its ranking, its actual score improved by less than one point, underlining the fragility of the progress made there during 2007.

At the same time, Afghanistan, where a growing number of U.S. and western troops are being deployed, suffered a decline of 3.1 points in its score, as well as a setback in its ranking -- from eighth in 2006 to seventh in 2007.

Pakistan's score also jumped significantly -- by 3.7 points -- during the year, as did Lebanon's over the same period -- from 92.4 to 95.7, a score that earned it the 18th rank, along with Nigeria. Another U.S.-backed ally in the Middle East, Yemen, also saw its score rise by 2.2 points, earning it the 21st ranking among the most vulnerable.

Outside sub-Saharan Africa and the Islamic world, the most endangered states included Sri Lanka (20) and North Korea (15). While Sri Lanka's score rose by 2.5 points, North Korea's remained static.

Aside from Haiti, Colombia (37) was considered the most vulnerable state in the Americas, although it modestly improved both its ranking and its score compared to 2006. Bolivia, on the other hand, moved from 59 to 55 on the Index, increasing its score by 2.2 points.

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